Syracuse Basketball: 5 Critical Keys to Winning ACC
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The entrance of Syracuse into the ACC for the upcoming 2013-14 season brings a new spotlight on the Orange program, but it also reinvigorates the receiving conference.
The ACC has been stellar, albeit top heavy for the past few seasons, and the injection of Syracuse, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh, with Louisville joining next season, broadens the core of the conference.
While Syracuse has left the old Big East behind, in addition to the aforementioned defectors, the Orange will reunite with old conference foes Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech. Additionally, while the full schedule has not been announced, Syracuse has already scheduled games with St. John’s and Villanova, meaning that this season, Syracuse will play a minimum of seven games against former Big East Foes.
The Big East is dead, long live the Big East.
For years, ACC and Big East fans have argued the merits of each other’s conferences. This season will be an interesting glimpse into how interconference play would have played out.
For Syracuse to be successful, the recipe is the same as it’s always been, with Chef Boeheim behind the stove. But while the recipe is the same, the ingredients are frequently substituted, and this season will present a new host of challenges.
Here’s a look at what will need to happen for Syracuse to make a successful run at capturing an ACC title in its first year of league play.
C.J. Fair Breaks Out
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Senior C.J. Fair will have this year’s team all to himself with the departure of Michael Carter-Williams, Brandon Triche and James Southerland.
Even with the talent level on the team, it was Fair who became the team’s leading scorer and rebounder and ended up being its best three-point shooter.
The left-handed Fair averaged 14.3 points and seven rebounds per game. His points should see a dramatic increase, but his rebounds will probably stay around the same or even go down a fraction. This team has enough size to rebound with any team in the country, so Fair’s services as a scorer will be his first, best destiny.
Fair is already getting buzz as one of the favorites to win the ACC player of the year award. For Syracuse’s young talent to blossom, Fair will need to play at that hyped level, which would take the pressure to score off of his teammates and allow unforced play.
Nothing in Fair’s game indicates that he is not up for the challenge, and as so many Syracuse seniors before him have discovered, the senior year can be a magical year.
Fair has an excellent shooting touch, can explode to the basket in a flash and is a very capable rebounder. Fair will need to play at his peak level this season as his ACC opponents will be gunning for him.
Tyler Ennis Is as Advertised
The departure of Michael Carter-Williams for the NBA leaves Syracuse without a true point guard on its roster, save for super frosh Tyler Ennis.
Ennis, at 6’2”, stands four inches shorter than Carter-Williams, but his ball-handling should make up for the difference. Ennis will be counted on to draw defenses out of the paint to allow Syracuse’s slashers to have room to work inside. He won’t be counted on to lead the team in scoring, but he will need to prove his ability to keep defenders honest.
Upon finding out he was left off of the McDonald’s All-American team, Ennis torched poor Eastern High School (N.J.) for 52 in the Scholastic Play-by-Play Classic, breaking Dajuan Wagner’s (remember him?) tournament record of 50. So, perhaps a challenged Ennis will be a motivated Ennis.
Syracuse already has commitment from 4-star point guard Kaleb Joseph for the following season, meaning that the Orange not only have a backup plan if Ennis doesn’t pan out, but a backup plan if Ennis blows up and jumps to the NBA.
Ennis will certainly get the chance to show his skills.
Owning the Boards
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The past few years have showcased guard-dominant Syracuse lineups. This year will be a little different.
The sheer size of Syracuse’s forwards should give it glass supremacy, but that doesn’t mean it will happen. Rebounding is as mental is it is physical.
With Baye Keita at 6’10”, Rakeem Christmas and DaJuan Coleman at 6’9”, C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant at 6’8”, and Duke transfer Michael Gbinije at 6’7”, the physical aspect won’t be a problem.
Nor should the mental part, as coach Jim Boeheim has enough players in the cupboard to only play the hungriest and headiest players.
Boeheim also has the luxury of keeping his frontcourt’s legs fresh.
Owning the glass and getting as many points in the paint as possible would do wonders for the Syracuse offense’s lack of shooters. And if you can make all your five-footers, you don’t need to worry about the 15-footers.
Great rebounding also fuels the Syracuse fast break, which is one of the great weapons of Boeheim-coached teams.
Offensive rebounding goes without saying.
Rebounding the ball is the great neutralizer, as it extends plays on offense and causes transition on defense.
Syracuse was one of the best rebounding teams in the nation last season and, with the change in personnel, should be even better this season.
Perfecting the 2-3 Zone
The hallmark of Syracuse has to be that pesky 2-3 zone.
As illustrated by Syracuse’s run to the Final Four last season, the zone can be as powerful a force as any offensive scheme. Teams try to mimic it in practice, but without the size and training of the Orange, opponents have a very difficult time preparing for it.
This season will give Syracuse a whole new crop of teams that haven’t seen its zone, which should be good livin’ for the ‘Cuse.
Teams such as Duke and North Carolina will likely prove a little more difficult, as the depth of their talent, both inside and out, will test the Orange’s will. A well-played zone can dictate the action in a game, but it takes incredible discipline, and the Orange must be ready for the better teams of the ACC.
The Syracuse starting five will be different than last year, but Tyler Ennis will be the only newcomer to the zone who gets significant playing time. Ennis’ adaptation to his role at the top of the zone will be key for the Orange.
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Rakeem Christmas comes in second in returning players with an average of 5.1 points per game.
Syracuse will need its players to grow up quickly with some on-the-job training.
Sources of scoring—other than Fair—should be Christmas, DaJuan Coleman, Jerami Grant, Tyler Ennis and Trevor Cooney, who is the team’s de facto three-point shooter.
Any one of these players could have a breakout season, and for Syracuse to be successful, more than one of them will need to improve his scoring.
It will be interesting to see Cooney’s play this season. He struggled in the beginning of last season but became a better shooter as the season went on.
The growth of Grant is also an exciting prospect for Orange fans, as he filled in nicely when needed and has a nice shooter's touch.
The wild card will be Michael Gbinije.
Gbinije sat out a year after transferring from Duke, but he practiced with the team all year and should be able to contribute immediately.
It’s anyone’s guess where the scoring comes from, other than Fair, but it will come from somewhere.
The Syracuse defense will be there. Where the scoring comes from and how much is produced will be the difference between Syracuse being a very good team or an ACC champion.